Cancers of the digestive system, which include colon cancer, one of the most frequently diagnosed cancers among men and women, often have few symptoms until they are more advanced. However, there are lifestyle changes you can make now to reduce your risk.
A Quick Lesson in Anatomy
Your digestive tract runs from your mouth to your anus, and gastrointestinal cancers can occur in any part of this system. They include cancers of the colon, rectum, stomach, esophagus, pancreas, liver, and small intestine.
The American Cancer Society expects more than 289,000 cancers of the digestive system to be diagnosed this year, the second highest group of cancers. Colon cancer alone is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States.
7 Steps to Help Prevent Digestive Cancers
Prevention of pancreatic, colon and other digestive cancers can depend on the choices you make in your diet and lifestyle. Here are some the steps you can take:
Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, which contain vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants. A high intake of green vegetables is associated with a reduced risk of bowel cancer, while a high vitamin C intake is associated with a reduced risk of stomach cancer.
Burned meats are linked with bowel cancer, as have a high intake of red and processed meats. Stomach cancer has been linked to salted and smoked meats.
Aim for 30 minutes of exercise on most days of the week. If you’re just starting, check with your doctor and start slowly before building up to 30 minutes. A sedentary lifestyle puts you at risk for several cancers.
If you’re obese, try to get your weight to a healthy level and work to maintain that level. Lose weight slowly by reducing your calories and increasing your exercise. Being obese is a risk factor in many cancers. In fact, obesity increases your risk of getting—and dying from—colon cancer when compared with people of normal weight.
If you smoke, seek help for ways to quit. Smoking does not just cause lung cancer. It’s linked to cancers of the colon, pancreas, pharynx (throat), esophagus (swallowing tube), and stomach.
Alcohol should be consumed in moderation—no more than a drink a day for women and two for men. Heavy use of alcohol is associated with an increased risk of cancers of the esophagus, pancreas, liver, and colon.
7. Medical Therapies
Antibiotics: Treatment of an infection caused by H. pylori bacteria can decrease the risk of developing stomach cancer.
Colonoscopy: Colon cancer often begins as polyps, precancerous cells on the lining of the colon. Removing these polyps during a colonoscopy before they become cancerous can prevent colon cancer from developing.